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Our Journal

Meet the Academics: Cathryn Bishop

We met up with Cathryn Bishop, Subject Leader of BA (Hons) Interior Design & Styling to find out more about her personal practice, the importance of creativity and how these factors both contribute to her teaching.

Cathryn Bishop, Subject Leader for our BA (Hons) Interior Design & Styling degree, has been with the college since 2016. When she’s not teaching and inspiring students, Cathryn runs her own interior design agency, Cornish Interiors, which she established in 2003.

Cathryn has designed boutique hotels, restaurants and private residences all over the world, including working with the National Trust on some of their specialist projects. Her interiors can also be seen within Plymouth landmarks, including St Elizabeth’s House and Sir Francis Drake’s historical home at Buckland Abbey.

Cathryn is as passionate about the craftsmanship and talent on offer in the South West as she is about passing this knowledge to her students. We spoke to Cathryn, asking for her insights on what it takes to run your own successful design agency, what shaped her into the artist she is today and how her personal practice influences her teaching at Plymouth College of Art.

It always feels like Christmas Day when you’re in a building, unpacking the furniture that you bought a year ago, and dressing the room for a glamorous photoshoot!
Cathryn Bishop, Subject Leader for BA (Hons) Interior Design & Styling.

Can you explain a little about your personal practice and background as a creative?

I have a degree in Spatial & Interior Related Design, and I’ve been running my interior design practice, Cornish Interiors, for the last 19 years. We employ several designers and create interiors for all sorts of spaces. We’ve designed cafes for the National Trust, restaurants and hotels in the South West and private homes and luxury rental properties all over the world. I grew up in Cornwall, and take a lot of my creative inspiration from the coast, whether that’s textures, colour palettes or just being near the sea.

What was your most satisfying project to work on?

One of my favourite projects was a National Trust property in Weymouth, one of the last remaining examples of Spanish Hollywood art deco architecture in the UK. I had to source original art deco pieces of furniture and accessories and pair these with modern fixtures and fittings to make the house comfortable for modern use. The project culminated in a visit from SPAB, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, which was fairly terrifying, but they were extremely complementary and it remains one of my favourite projects.

Was there an experience that was especially influential on your work or style?

I was very lucky that early in my career I got to work with Jill Stein, an amazing interior designer, who educated me about effortless interiors. I've worked with amazing architects, contractors and suppliers since, learning a huge amount on every project I've undertaken.

Sometimes a client will come to me with nothing but a plot of land, and I’ll work on that job right until the point when I’m arranging crockery in the finished kitchen. It always feels like Christmas Day when you’re in a building, unpacking the furniture that you bought a year ago, and dressing the room for a glamorous photoshoot!

My early education was also extremely influential. I went to a tiny primary school in North Cornwall and we were encouraged to be creative, making up our own plays, creating sets which we would build, all before we were ten. That freedom and passion still remains, you can make things happen yourself.

Cathryn Bishop web res 3

Cathryn Bishop

What made you want to go into teaching?

I'd been doing some guest lecturing and I'd taken on a couple of apprentices at my practice and I realised I really enjoyed passing on my passion and enthusiasm for design. I was asked to advise on the content of the course at Plymouth College of Art and the more I thought about it, the more I realised I wanted to be part of creating a course that taught the things you really need to know as a designer.

What do you find the most rewarding aspect of teaching?

Seeing someone gain confidence in a skill they initially knew nothing about, and going on to be proficient in it. Watching our graduates go out and get fantastic design roles, to be part of that journey with them is amazing. Using my professional experience, I want to ensure that all of our graduates leave the college ready to work within the creative industries. It's wonderful to be a small part of someone's journey in design.

How does your teaching influence your practice and vice versa?

My practice allows me to be super relevant to my students. I can talk them through things that our studio is actually working on, show them plans, tell them about mistakes we've made and how to avoid them. I gain so much from teaching, my understanding of my own subject has deepened substantially and the students always bring fresh design ideas to the table which inspire me.

There’s so much experience that I can share about what you need to do to succeed as an interior designer
Cathryn Bishop, Subject Leader for BA (Hons) Interior Design & Styling.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received as a creative?

It doesn't have to be perfect, it has to be out there, so don't wait until something is 100% before you share it with the world. You'll never do it!

Is creativity important in society today?

Seriously?! Of course it is, it's the MOST important thing. The world is changing at such a fast pace, you need to be able to think creatively to keep up, and the resilience that comes with creativity is essential.

If you were visiting a university Open Day, what question do you think would be most important to ask?

Where are the graduates now? How well do the staff know their students and their aspirations? Are the lecturing team still practising in their field?

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Cathryn Bishop (left) with student Phoebe Leader (right) who won an exclusive competition with Vispring to design a headboard for a collection of luxury beds

What’s your favourite thing about Plymouth College of Art?

It's such a vibrant space, the breadth of knowledge and experience the staff have is amazing, everyone's at the top of their game. I love that you can be wandering along a corridor, and go past someone dressed as an octopus, on their way to shoot their costume in the photography studios.

The great thing about studying at Plymouth College of Art is that there are so many other disciplines to study alongside. Textile designers, illustrators and people studying traditional crafts can all come together in a studio environment. That makes a wonderful environment to create in and also helps students to build networks that they’ll be able to draw upon after they graduate.

What advice would you give to a student starting out in creative arts?

Interior designers might work with different fabrics, wallpapers, lighting, furniture and accessories – on bigger jobs they’ll be involved from the day that an architect starts drawing up plans, right until the day that they arrange furniture and accessories in the finished building – so the opportunity to build a network of talented and creative peers is invaluable.

Soak it all up, say yes to every opportunity and collaborate and build your network from day one; these are your people and you'll be working with them in the future.

If you’re interested in interior design and styling, why not get in touch with Cathryn? Whether you’d like to discuss the course modules, the college or what it’s like to be a student studying interiors, email interior@pca.ac.uk to find out more from Cathryn and the Interiors staff directly.